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Ontario Bike Regulations—Know Your Rights!

By Sheila Ascroft

Learning to share the road requires learning the rules of the road.

Although the official rules of the road vary from province to province and state to state, there are many regulations in common. Obviously, I can’t list the specific rules for your area, so I’ve decided to focus on my own province of Ontario. Below is a summary of the most common bike regulations according to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. (For a complete list, see Ontario Ministry of Transportation. Be aware, that all the regulations listed here carry $85 fines for non-compliance, except for: not having a proper lights ($20); not wearing a helmet if under 16 ($60); and for not stopping for “stopped school buses when the upper alternating red lights are flashing and the stop arm is out” ($400).

I have italicized a few things that you may not have been aware of. Sometimes, the local police force is not aware of these nuances either!

In general, cyclists must ride far enough out from the curb to maintain a straight line, clear of sewer grates, debris, potholes, and parked car doors. You may occupy any part of a lane when your safety warrants it. Never compromise your safety for the convenience of a motorist behind you. (If only we could get drivers to think of cyclists as they do slow-moving farm equipment, perhaps they would be more willing to slow down and wait for a clear opportunity to pass us!)

Cyclists are required to ride as close as practicable to the right curb of the roadway, except when:

  • travelling at the normal speed of traffic
  • avoiding hazardous conditions
  • the roadway is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to travel safely side-by-side
  • riding alongside another cyclist in a manner that does not impede the normal movement of traffic
  • preparing to make a left turn, passing another vehicle, or using a one-way street (in which case riding alongside the left curb is permitted).

Cyclists also have to:

  • stop for red lights and stop signs and comply with all other signs
  • ride in the designated direction on one-way streets
  • before turning, look behind and signal the turn. The right arm can be used to signal a right turn or use the left with the elbow bent and hand up and vertical.
  • yield or stop for pedestrians at crosswalks
  • walk your bike when crossing at a crosswalk
  • stop and identify correctly themselves when required by police for breaking traffic laws.

Although it seems like common sense, your bike is required to have at least one brake system on the rear wheel. “When you put on the brakes, you should be able to skid on dry, level pavement.” Every cyclist under 18 must wear an approved bicycle helmet. Parents or guardians shall not knowingly permit cyclists under 16 to ride without a helmet.

Your bike must also have:

  • a white front light and a red rear light or reflector if you ride between 1/2 hour before sunset and 1/2 hour after sunrise. Also required: white reflective tape on the front forks and red reflective tape on rear forks
  • a bell or horn in good working order

A few other rules:

  • bicycles are prohibited on expressway / freeway highways such as the 400 series, the QEW, Ottawa Queensway and on roads where “No Bicycle” signs are posted
  • passengers are not allowed on a bicycle designed for one person
  • cyclists are not permitted to attach themselves to the outside of another vehicle or streetcar for the purpose of “hitching a ride.”
  • if walking your bike on a highway where there are no sidewalks, you are considered a pedestrian and you should walk on the left-hand side of the road facing traffic. If it is not safe for you to cross the road to face traffic, you may walk your bike on the right-hand side of the road.

Remember: the only way to share the road is to share the learning. Please pass this on.

30 comments to Ontario Bike Regulations—Know Your Rights!

  • Anthony

    I think downhill skiing rules should apply. The faster vehicle, the one that would like to pass, has the responsibility to ensure that their actions do not negatively impact the vehicle being passed. I ride for pleasure and some summers I ride more than I drive.

    One point that was raised is that a larger vehicle that travels through a stop sign is far more dangerous than a bicycle that ‘slows down’ instead of stopping (yes I wear cleats) or a herd that travels through a stop sign as a single unit (as bus or tractor). I have recently seen a motorcycle who tried to roll through a stop sign (same one I roll through) and almost dumped his bike when he had to stop because there was a car on the road he was about to enter. If I see a car. I can safely stop when there is a need. My bike weighs less and I can stop real quick at slow speeds. If I fail to avoid the vehicle because I failed to stop at a stop sign, I am not going to injure or kill the motorist. The same cannot be said about me the cyclist.

    Last week, I was forced off the road by a van that was trying to pass a car going in the opposite direction (I was traveling west and the other vehicles traveled east). The van driver showed total disregard for my life and probably figured it was my responsibility to protect my live and not his. Yes there are irresponsible cyclists, but my experience has been that motorists have a greater percentage of arrogant and disrespectful drivers than exists in the cycling community. If cyclists were half as bad, there would be many more deaths.

  • mike

    As a regular cyclist, motorcyclist and a driver I have to say that the cyclist group shows the least respect for roadway laws … by a huge margin. While writing this note I’m watching a 4 way stop, in the last 5 minutes 8 of 8 bikes have run the intersection without even slowing, 25 of 25 cars came to a reasonable stop and yielded right of way properly. Several cyclists were running in the wrong lane and 2 more adult riders were running sidewalks.

    I think motorcyclists and motorists get frustrated with the cyclists complaints mostly because they see cyclists breaking road rules as if they are entitled.

    We all deserve to be safe on the roads. We all have the responsibility to enjoy roads responsibly… and to follow the rules at all times.

  • Conrad

    If a cyclist doesn’t prove to be considerate to other then I proceed as such. Honk my horn and flowed by get out of the way moron. Most cyclist pose an unsafe situation at most times by ex resizing the ont law at full. Therefore they must suffer the consequences. PS,, I’m also a cyclist, and I stay out of the way of any motorized vehicle. Just be safe and dint negotiate with vehicles bigger then you.

  • E.D.

    I’ve tried reading all the comments and I don’t believe this was mentioned. I think that cyclists should ride with the mentality that they’re invisible. Assuming that a driver can or will see you could be fatal.

    When I’m riding my motorcycle, specifically making a left turn, there have been a few times when a cyclists cut me off by riding against the flow of traffic and using a sidewalk/crosswalk. Usually they’re travelling at fairly high rate of speed (for a bicycle). Doesn’t matter if this is legal or not, but it has left me very little time to react. My options are, trying to stop in the middle of an intersection with the risk of getting hit by oncoming traffic and dumping my motorbike. Or, continuing my turn and potentially hitting the cyclist… Well, as a generalization, I think I stand a better chance of survival by hitting the cyclist that having a car run me over.

    Thankfully, in those situations (so far), I’ve either been able to accelerate out of the situation, or the cyclist has stopped.

    When I’m on a motorbike, my reaction is to keep myself and the bike out of harms way. If a cyclist cuts me off, my reaction isn’t necessarily to avoid the cyclist, or panic stop. My reaction is what do I need to do to stay upright and not crash. When a cyclist charges into an intersection coming off a sidewalk and going against the flow of traffic, this tells me their concern of personal safety is quite low.

    Yes, I know this is a very specific situation. But, sadly it has happened a few times.

  • Cathy

    Paul is right, I too live in Brockville and have many times come up behind a group of cyclists (I assume they are a club) because there is about 20 of them travelling side by side making it impossible to pass. I try to be patient and wait for a long straight stretch to pass them on. I just wish they could show just a little more courtesy and try to make it easier for the motorist. Respect goes both ways,

  • Bill

    The Ontario Highway Traffic Act considers bicycles to be vehicles. The Ontario Traffic Act does not explicitly forbid side by side cycling. However, two sections of the Act could reasonably be interpreted as forbidding the practice under certain circumstances.

    Ontario Highway Traffic Act Sections 148(2) and 148(6) require vehicles to “turn out to the right to allow the vehicle to pass” when being passed by vehicles travelling at a higher rate of speed.

    The wording of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act requires that slow moving vehicles (cyclists) move to the right, but this is only when being passed. The move to the right is to facilitate the space to allow a faster vehicle to safely pass. Nothing in the wording of these sections of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act suggests that cycling single file is the only way to comply with law.

  • Eric

    Just a quick one for riders…are you aware that filtering to the front of a red light is illegal?

    I see this on a daily and would like to be able to do this on my motorcycle however am unable to because our laws here in Ontario do not allow vehicles (on a bike you are a vehicle according to the HTA).

    On a bike when you filter, you are now forcing other motorists to change lanes and cause even more of a backlog of traffic and hazard to the rider to safely get around a cyclist since you cannot reach a sufficient speed.

    This practice is extremely dangerous if traffic is slow but not stopped as I have come close to hitting cyclists that filter on the right and do not seem to pay attention to turn signals…a specific bike lane I will always yield to, on a normal roadway I do not.

    Sorry for the bit of a rant. I am very much for sharing the roadway with all users and wish Ontario was a bit more forward thinking, but would like those of you who practice this to consider the implications.

  • John

    Today I saw the usual group of bicyclists out for a ride on my rural highway. They were 4 abreast on the road blocking a huge transport truck that had to slow and use his flashers for safety. He couldn`t pass in that area. According to the rules above, the bikes were breaking several laws and had great big smiles letting us know they were doing it on purpose. Where is a cop when you need them?

  • Wayne

    On a city walking path like Hogs Back Park we have had Cyclists yell at us to move to the grass. These cyclists will often go by us at a high rate of speed. (I know there are many good cyclists out there) However with our little one’s this is not always easy so on a walking path who has right of way a cyclists or the pedestrian.

    • LS

      Hi Wayne,

      My understanding is that the pedestrian always has the right-of-way on city paths. Most paths also have a speed limit of 20 kmh for cyclists, which unfortunately isn’t enforced. As someone who also enjoys walking, I know how unnerving it can be when an inconsiderate cyclist blows past, barking to get out of their way at the last minute. I think what they’re supposed to do is to ring their bells to alert the pedestrian of their presence and then pass on the opposite side when it is safe to do so (you may want to verify this with the police). On the other hand, I’ve also been on a bike when pedestrians are spread across the path, not leaving an appropriate amount of space for a cyclist to pass safely on the other side. Everything works better when people are considerate of each other, understanding that city paths are multi-use, put there for all of us to enjoy safely.

  • Jodie

    I have a question regarding bicyclists making a left hand turn at a 4 way stop. I do not ride a bike so I am asking from a motorists perspective. The bike rider was coming to a stop sign in the right hand lane but indication a left turn. There was a left turn lane. I was making a left turn at the other stop and had the right of way since I was stopped first. As I was making my left turn the guy on the bike turned in front of me causing me to brake in the intersection to let him complete his turn. Then proceeds to give me the finger. First off he only rolled through the stop sign, secondly he cut in front of the car in the left lane and in front of me who was making a left hand turn to go on the opposite direction. Should I have stayed at the stop sign and gave the right of way to the bike? Should he have been in the left turning lane? There are several bike enthusiasts in my area and I am more than happy to share the road. I just want clarification so I am driving correctly. This is the 3rd time I have witnessed a cyclist making a left hand turn in the right lane when there is a left hand turning lane.

    • LS

      Hi Jodie,
      Thank you for your comment. The same rules of the road that apply to motorists also apply to cyclists. Unfortunately, some cyclists don’t follow those rules. If there’s a left turn lane and this cyclist was turning left, then he should have been in the left turn lane. If you reached the stop sign first, then the cyclist should have let you through the 4-way stop before he went.

      Road cyclists wear special cycling shoes that are clipped into their pedals. They are often reluctant to come to a full stop because it means having to unclip from their pedal, and then clip in again when they go through the intersection, which can be a bit dangerous if they have trouble clipping back in and don’t have full control of their pedals. In Ontario it is illegal for a cyclist to roll through a stop sign but most do if it’s safe to do so. In this case, it wasn’t safe and the cyclist was riding in a way that was confusing for the motorist. To make matters worse, he was then rude to you.

      When I encounter cyclists while driving my car I always exercise extreme caution. Most are polite and follow the rules of the road. They just want to enjoy their ride and arrive home safely. But there are a few rogue cyclists, who give the rest of us a bad name. The main thing to remember as a motorist is that no matter who is in the right, if your car collides with someone on a bike, the cyclist will be badly injured or killed. And no one wants that to happen.

      Many thanks for taking the time to ask your question, for sharing the road and for being a patient and considerate driver.

      Laurel-Lea Shannon, Editor/Publisher

  • ethan

    i got into trobel for rideing my bike on school propoty

  • My question would be why do cyclists have to ride on roads at all when there are hundreds of miles of bicycle trails in Ontario? My experience has been quite negative.. I have had bikes pull out in front of me when they could not get up to speed , they never stop at stop signs unless there is a car coming, they crowd the road riding 3-4 abreast and not moving and the list goes on. These are on rural roads. As far as slowing down for a tractor, they have a vital purpose, I am not slowed down so YOU can exercise.

    • Daniel Brotherston

      You clearly have never ridden anywhere in Ontario. You should try riding a bike some places. First off, I have just as much right to use the roads as tractors or cars. Secondly, many of us ride for transportation. Exercise is a nice benefit of choosing cycling for transportation, but I have every right to choose to cycle instead of drive. On to breaking the law, I see drivers break the law every day every single day. When drivers do it, they could kill someone. I think complaining about cyclists breaking the law is petty by comparison. As far as riding on trails, we have thousands of miles of trails, and almost none of them are connected together. To ride in Ontario, one MUST ride on the road. If you want to fix that, argue for better cycling infrastructure. Too many drivers argue against cycling infrastructure, which seems to be a seriously stupid point of view for a group of people who don’t like to be inconvenienced by cyclists.

      • mike

        I would disagree. I legal car owner must pay for a license plate sticker, and any gasoline or diesel powered vehicle pays a tax that go towards paving and maintaining roads. And as a non cyclist and an annoyed driver i would ask this question. Wouldnt you rather be in charge of your own saftey by riding cautiously and giving the right of way (even if you disagree with me on who diserves it) to someone that could kill or seriously injure you if an accident were to take place. I would feel bad if it happened but would physically be unharmed.

  • Karen

    Maybe you should read the rules of Slow Moving Vehicles – you MUST stay to the right
    HTA 147 – Slow moving traffic travel on right side
    any vehicle moving slower than the normal traffic speed should drive in the right-hand lane, or as close as practicable to the right edge of the road except when preparing to turn left or when passing another vehicle. Set fine: $85.00

  • Paul

    As I have previously indicated, I agree with the laws. My question then is, what are safe roads to cycle on? To play the devils advocate, to “put it out there”, why aren’t cyclists permitted on 400 highways? What is a safe speed? We know that most drivers go 90 on an 80 km speed limit. Is that safe?

  • Robin

    Look at boating right of way rules, slower vessels ALWAYS get the right of way.
    On shared use trails, right of way goes to horses, pedestrians, cyclists and cite no motorized vehicles.
    Contrary to people like Paul and Daniels opinion, the slower and more vulnerable get the right of way and the faster and more powerful must yield.
    This create a safer and empathetic environment for all.
    Two by two cycling creates a presence on the road and it is motor vehicle operators responsibility to see to the safety of everyone on the road whether they be animals, people, school buses and tractors. It a speed LIMIT that is posted, not a requirement so exercise caution, courtesy and patience.
    Remember, that could be your family member or friend sharing the road or if should you elect to exercise the option of participating in this healthy and fun mode of transportation, you!

  • Diogenes

    My region’s police disagrees with the law and thinks bikes should stay as close to the curb as possible regardless of the cyclist’s safety, just so motorists won’t be delayed for a few seconds….I have to tolerate harassing honks, shouts and cursing from obnoxious motorists and the police seem to agree with them…

  • Paul Matte

    I wasn’t clear. As I said, I understand and agree with the laws. I may not have been clear when I used the word “clump”. The rules say two abreast, side-by-side, in a line is OK. I agree. When I refer to the pack, I mean a large group of a dozen clustered as if in a race, not side-by-side. I live outside of Brockville on cty. rd. 2 where it is double laned. I see this situation far too often. Someone is going to get hurt.

  • Paul Matte

    I agree with all the laws and rules. They are common sense. What I never here about, however, are the rules or laws behind groups riding on an 80 km limit rural road. They often travel in clumps taking an entire lane. Isn’t this dangerous? Group/Touring cyclists need to be made aware that they do not own the road, that the law states they should ride single file and that slower traffic should yield to faster vehicles.

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